01. Exercise enhances moods and reduces stress.
Anyone that's been treated for depression, anxiety, or a similar disorder knows that one of the first lifestyle changes a doctor or therapist will recommend is exercise. That's because exercise doesn't just release sweat; it also releases chemicals that make us feel good. This has been shown in both the short-run (that folks who exercise maintain a better mood for 4 - 12 hours immediately following a workout than those that don't) as well as the long-run. In fact, a recent study proved exercise can be as effective as Zoloft in the long-run treatment of clinical depression. (The effects of Zoloft are much more immediate, though). Whether you're battling the blues or just need a little pick-me-up, exercise is an effective tool for stress management - and a pretty healthy alternative to other managers like alcohol - so hit the gym any time you're feeling down.
02. Exercise increases confidence.
A recent study indicates that exercise improves confidence and overall body image. Surprisingly, the amount of exercising didn't matter; rather, the sheer act of exercising was enough to improve participants' self image even if they didn't lose a single pound. I've read similar studies that show people on weight loss plans that exercise feel more satisfied with themselves than folks who lose the same amount of weight just dieting. Maybe it's all those feel-good chemicals moving around, or maybe it's just the intellectual satisfaction of successfully completing a challenge. No matter the reason, exercise delivers some real ego-boosting results.
03. Exercise is one of the easiest ways to improve overall health.
Want to lower your blood pressure? Increase your metabolism? Reduce your risk of heart disease? Improve liver function? Increase oxygen circulation? Enhance nervous system feedback? Abolish various phantom aches and pains? Utilize calcium and other nutrients more efficiently? Do you want to do all this - AND MORE?!?! Just exercise!
04. Exercise regulates our immune systems.
Yes, so exercise keeps our bodies clean and improves its overall functionality. This is particularly good news for our immune systems. Exercise mobilizes our T cells, those little white blood cells that help the body fight infections, and gives a temporary boost to macrophages, the cells that attack bacteria. Immediately following a work out, our immune systems kick into over drive, too, though they generally return to normal later in the day. However, regular exercisers are able to prolong this effect, which multiple studies (like the one mentioned here and another mentioned here) have shown decreases how often exercisers are sick compared to their non-exercising counterparts.
05. Exercise prevents muscle loss as we age.
Let's face it: aging is the extended version of fruit rotting on the counter. Slowly but surely, our bodies fall apart, and then we die. (How's that for a dose of posi in the morning?) BUT - while this may be a fact of life, we do have some control over how quickly this happens. As we age, our bodies stop utilizing protein as effectively, and we can't regulate insulin as well - both of which are CRUCIAL for building and maintaining muscle. (study here) Subsequently, our muscles begin to deteriorate, but with regular exercise, we counteract that. (more evidence here)
06. Exercise builds bone density.
In addition to losing our muscles, we also lose our bone density as we age, but study after study confirms that exercise - specifically, weight training - can counteract this, too. For instance, in one study, there were two groups of elderly women: ones that weight trained twice a week and ones that didn't. After a year's time, the group that weight trained increased their bone density by 1% while the other group decreased it by as much as 3%. The former group also had better strength and balance, which is especially important as we age since stuff like walking in the snow gets a whole lot trickier...
07. Exercise keeps us feeling - and looking! - young.
Remember that rosy picture about rotting fruit and all that? It should be pretty clear by now that exercise is crucial to delaying that process - or at the very least, to preserving our quality of life. Think of our bodies like cars: if you change the oil regularly, do a tune up here and there, and don't constantly leave the lights on while the car's parked, then your car will likely last you a good long while. But if you miss even a few oil changes, you've blown your engine, and let's not even start on how quickly repairs pile up when just a few are forgotten. We ruin our bodies as effectively as we ruin our cars when we don't take care of them, so do yourself a favor, spare yourself the healthcare costs, and commit to regular exercise.
08. Exercise increases mental agility.
Because exercise increases blood flow, it's a no brainer that more blood is flowing to your brain. This improves its overall function, especially with regard to memory. Preliminary studies also suggest that exercise helps repair and regenerate brain cells. In the short run, this means being more alert and intellectually present, but in the long run, this means that exercise may be a powerful tool in precluding alzheimer's and senility.
09. Exercise is great for the skin.
Three big reasons for skin problems: stress, hormones, and toxins. We know exercise reduces stress, but did you know that it regulates hormones, too? It also increases oxygen circulation, which improves overall waste elimination. You can use all the fancy face products and medications that you want, but the cheapest, easiest (and possibly most effective) way to get glowing skin is simply clean eating, proper hydration, and regular exercise.
10. Exercise regulates appetite.
Seriously, exercise regulates our appetites in all KINDS of ways. For starters, it can suppress appetite-stimulating hormones like grehlin. Exercise also increases our insulin sensitivity, which better stabilizes our blood sugar. In turn, our bodies release energy in a controlled and consistent manner, and we have fewer cravings (chiefly junk ones). (Check out this video about exercise and insulin for more information: http://videos.howstuffworks.com/university-of-michigan/768-exercise-and-insulin-video.htm) Thus, if we regularly exercise, not only are we more likely to eat less, but we're also more likely make better food choices and avoid impulse eating. (If you want to read a little bit more about exercise, appetite, and why diets fail, Oh She Glows wrote a really great post about it.)
11. Exercise gives us energy.
I read somewhere that, if you're feeling run down, a little jogging or a few jumping jacks will perk you up as effectively as a power nap. Don't remember where I read that, but I do remember a study where every participant - young, old, fat, thin, sick, healthy - all reported improved energy levels after starting a regular exercise program. It may seem counter-intuitive that expending energy gives us energy, but there's something about getting that motor going that makes us want to keep going. In fact, morning exercisers consistently report that exercising in the A.M. gives them more energy and focus throughout the day than exercising at other times. Whouda thunk it?
This list is pretty brief and generalized, but if it hasn't gotten the ball moving in your mind that exercise is about more than burning calories, I'm not sure what will. Plus, if you find something physically active that you actually enjoy doing, it won't feel like "exercise." It will genuinely feel FUN. Now why are you still sitting at the computer? Get up! in the gym! and work! on your fitness! (Does anyone but me still wiggle their butt to that song..?)
Also, check back next week for tips on maintaining motivation as you begin or continue a workout plan.